The Expert

I wrote this article in 1990 and was reminded of it recently when I read Kelly Jensen's post, Five Great Questions I Was Asked as a Reference Librarian. 26 years later I can still see that 12 year old girl's face as she asked me the hardest question of my career.

There is one occupational hazard in being a teacher librarian that I have never heard discussed in all the in-services I’ve attended since taking on this role six years ago. It’s this. Everybody expects you to know everything.

Here are some questions I’ve been asked in my job as a junior high school librarian. I am NOT making these up.

“Do you have a book on spontaneous human combustion?”

“What’s the title of that book about the girl who goes back in time and meets her mom when she was a kid? I think it has a pink cover.”

“Somebody told me that Tchaikovsky was gay. Is that true?”

“What bus do you take to get to Southgate?”

And, of course, my personal favorite, “I’m doing research for Human Sexuality. What does ‘interruptus’ mean?”

Teachers can come up with some doozies too, like, “The film I ordered didn’t come in. Can you do a book talk next period on Victorian era literature?”

I used to take this question business for granted until one day I sat down next to a girl who was working in the library and she asked, “Mrs. Peterson, if you kill yourself, do you still go to heaven?”

See what I mean about occupational hazard?

I think I answered that question correctly, thanks to the help I got from the school psychologist. But the next time you ask your friendly neighborhood librarian a question, and she stops to think, be patient with her. Being the expert can be terrifying.

I believe in teacher librarians.

To listen to my recording of this post, click on the link below.

I believe in teacher librarians

I believe in teacher librarians. I am at the end of my career, having completed my degree in school librarianship post-retirement, so I have known plenty of tls. I am lucky to have had great role models in my time, but as a grandmother with two young boys soon to enter the school system, I find myself looking forward. What will Lucca and Cole find in their school libraries? Will there be someone there to feed their obsession for reading? Will someone help them navigate the new literacies so they learn, grow, and create online? Most important, will someone in their school libraries welcome, accept, and support them as they grow? Thinking about the tls I’ve met in this program, if their schools have professional teacher librarians, the answer to all these questions is yes. How do I know this? Because I know what teacher librarians do.

Teacher librarians provide high quality print and online curricular resources. I believe in Rhonda, who provides her high school students not only with the latest and greatest digital resources, but also with a vibrant print collection including hard-to-find novels by Canadian First Nations writers.

Teacher librarians build a collection and a space that encourages students to read and to learn. I believe in Lissa, who in one-half day of library time per week has transformed the dismal, discouraging library she inherited. Now she leads literacy in a warm and vibrant hub where her students and teachers love to read and work.

Teacher librarians develop events and programs that promote reading. I believe in Joanie, who decided her students needed graphic novels as part of their reading experiences. She planned with her principal, sought expert advice, bought judiciously, solicited input from students, promoted creatively, and invited a knowledgeable guest speaker to her school. She also thoughtfully introduced her teachers to graphic novels. The results? More excitement about reading, and a wider variety of choices for student learning.

Teacher librarians collaborate with teachers to integrate information literacy, inquiry, literature and technology into the curriculum. I believe in Amanda, who eagerly shares her knowledge of teaching reading and writing with her colleagues, and is continually improving her teaching.

I believe in Renae, who as the information literacy leader in her school collaborates with her teachers to implement inquiry-based, information processing projects with all students. Her grade 7 class researched the impact of a proposed mine on a local salmon spawning stream, and used Web 2.0 tools to create an interactive presentation so they could share their concerns at a public forum.

Teacher librarians serve on leadership teams to implement initiatives that improve student learning. I believe in Kelly, part of the literacy committee at her school, who gave copies of The Book Whisperer to all her language arts teachers, Now they are planning to implement free voluntary reading and book challenges in her school. I believe in Terri, who serves other teacher librarians as webmaster for the Alberta School Library Council.

Teacher librarians use instructional technology to teach, to support reading, to facilitate learning and content creation, and to build a virtual library. I believe in Shelly, who reads fan fiction with her students and encourages them in writing their own. She helps them see themselves as both writers and readers. She envisions doing action research on using new technologies with students, both as a way to build their learning, and as a way to advocate for technology funding.

I believe in Brenda, who welcomes a group of grade five boys to the library every day after school so they can chat with her about the books they are reading for her 40-book challenge or tell her a joke or debate which fast food fries are the best. With her colleague, Leslie, Brenda has 400 students recording what they read on their free voluntary reading web sites and discussing online what they read and recommend to others. One result is more student book requests in one year than in the previous eight combined.

Teacher librarians promote reading for pleasure and free voluntary reading in school. I believe in Heather, who fought to eliminate scheduled book exchanges in favor of flexibility. Circulation dramatically increased, formerly reluctant teachers see the value of student choice, and students can get books when they need them.

I believe in Jess, who builds relationships with her students by helping each of them find just the right book. She sees her reader’s advisory as time to get to know her students as they share their questions, their concerns, and their thoughts about the world in which they live.

I believe in Anne, who loves the power of story and the insight her students’ stories give her into their lives. Her goal is to ensure that her students trust themselves as readers capable of making their own reading choices.

Teacher librarians model lifelong learning and reading for pleasure. I believe in Deborah, the enabling adult and model expert reader. She shares with her students her love of literature and the idea that reading is fun. One of her great ideas is the book swap project that reinforces her effort to develop a school culture that celebrates reading and honours choice.

I believe in Melissa, who takes such joy in getting to know every student in her school and passing on her passion for reading. For her reading is a social activity, nurtured by a community of readers.

Teacher librarians involve parents in their children’s learning. I believe in Natasha, who sees parent education, involvement and collaboration in information literacy as a way to teach a whole community, not just its children.

I believe that professional teacher librarians are indispensable to our 21st century learners. I fervently hope that as my two grandsons grow, they are lucky enough to have a teacher librarian in their school. To all the wonderful teacher librarians I have met in the TL-DL program, I want you to know that I believe in you.

Building a High School Library Program That Meets the Needs of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered, or Questioning Students – Part 3

PLEASE NOTE: For a much expanded and updated version of this information, please go to Becoming and Being: Reflections on Teacher-Librarianship, pages 192-205.

On September 22, 2010, eighteen-year-old Tyler Clementi, a freshman at Rutgers University, jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge.  His private encounter with a man in his dorm room had been secretly recorded and broadcast over the Internet by Clementi’s roommate, who boasted about this on his Facebook page.

Tyler’s death inspired an outpouring of shock and grief around the world, and led to the adoption of anti-bullying and safe environment legislation in two American states (Associated Press, 2010).  For many people saddened by this tragedy the spotlight shone on the homophobic bullying and harassment that cause so many youths to live in fear. Most high school teachers know that homophobia is rampant among teenagers.  We teacher-librarians pride ourselves on the fact that our libraries are safe havens that meet the needs of all our students, but would our GLBTQ students agree? If you aren’t sure, the professional and research literature provides many resources to help teacher-librarians make changes. We can better understand the challenges GLBTQ youth face every day at school, and learn about ways to improve our collections, our services, and our support for GLBTQ youth.  These resources can help us answer this question: How can a high school teacher-librarian ensure that the library is a student-centred safe haven that meets the needs of GLBTQ students?
Understand the Challenges GLBTQ Youth Face at School and in the Library

First we need to see the reality of GLBTQ teen life. Fear is a constant for many GLBTQ high school students.  A recent Canadian study (Taylor et al., 2010) commissioned by Egale Canada Human Rights Trust surveyed 1700 high school students and reported that 75% of GLBTQ students (87% of transgender students) felt unsafe in various areas at school (p. 3), even, for some, the school library (p. 24).  Over 25% of GLBTQ students had skipped school because they felt unsafe (p. 5).  Over 75% heard derogatory (homophobic) comments every day, and 60% (90% of transgender students) said they had been verbally harassed about their sexual orientation (p. 3). Many students (40 % of transgender; 25% of GLBTQ) had been physically harassed (p. 4). Where were the adults while all this was happening?  Sadly, 50% of transgender students (34.1% of GLBQ) reported that staff never intervened when homophobic comments were made (p. 4), and 40% did not feel that they could talk to a teacher (Taylor et al., 2010, p. 5). One participant said, “The teachers know it’s going on, but they rarely pipe up and protect me or others. i guess they figure it’s a lost cause. it takes a lot of energy to defend yourself all the time” (Taylor et al., 2010, p. 34). Other research suggests that these numbers may be conservative. A British Columbia survey of 18 high schools found that GLBTQ students were harassed 80% more than their heterosexual peers (Darwich, 2008, as cited in Haskell and Burtch, 2010). The 2009 Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network survey of 7200 students across the United States reported higher percentages of GLBTQ students suffering various types of harassment: 85% were verbally harassed, 40% were physically harassed, and 52% were victims of cyber-bullying. It is shocking to note that 62% of students who were harassed did not report it to authorities, assuming that nothing would be done, or that the harassment would worsen, and 33% of students who did report harassment said that no action had been taken by their school (Kosciw, Greytak, Diaz, &  Bartkiewicz, 2010, p. 3). To what does all this fear lead? According to a study by the organization Advocates for Youth, one-third of gay/lesbian youth say they have attempted suicide at least once, about 30% have dropped out of school, and as many as 40% of homeless youth are gay (Advocates for Youth, 2002, as cited in Curry, 2005, p. 68). Surely school libraries, at least, are safe and welcoming? In addition to looking at overall school experiences, the professional and research literature abounds with accounts of GLBTQ youths’ experiences in the library. A fifteen year-old blogger recalls,

When I set out to find more LGBT titles, I turned to my school’s library. Honestly? It was pathetic. There was not one single LGBT novel. But oh, of course the librarian went out of her way to buy books about gangs, drugs, and teen pregnancy. When I asked her about that, she replied, “This is a school library. If you’re looking to read inappropriate titles, go to a bookstore.” Uhm, how in the hell is LGBT YA lit “inappropriate”? (Limited Shelf Life, 2010)

Students struggling to find GLBTQ resources in libraries report a number of common issues. These include not being able to find resources, not feeling safe to approach library staff for help, and feeling negatively judged by others (including staff) in libraries (Bridge, 2010; Curry, 2005; Hoheb, 1999; Linville, 2004). In addition, school Internet filters often block GLBTQ sites appropriate for teen use, including them with pornography and obscenity as banned sites (Greenblatt, 2003; Hobeb, 1999; Martin & Murdock, 2007; Schrader & Wells, 2007; Whelan, 2006). Given these findings, it is perhaps not surprising that when asked what school staff members they would approach for help with GLBTQ issues, students ranked only the principal and vice-principal less approachable than the school librarian (Kosciw, Greytak, Diaz, &  Bartkiewicz, 2010, p. 60).  Learn What Information LGBTQ Teens Need     A second strategy to help teacher-librarians improve programming is to examine what GLBTQ students need to know. Rauch (2010) states, “An important part of adolescence is the self-searching and identity-forming transition, when teens need to figure out who they are among their friends, family, and society as a whole” (p. 216). Unfortunately GLBTQ youth are often at a disadvantage during this crucial time as they generally do not have GLBTQ role models in their circle of family and friends, and may even be rejected by them (Behara & Maquet, 2006, p. 13). Alexander and Miselis (2007) point out that “Most GLBTQ teens have limited access to information, few positive role models, and tenuous social support systems, making identity formation extremely difficult” (p. 45). So what information is most useful to GLBTQ youth at this critical time in their lives? Behra and Maquet (2006) interviewed 21 GLBTQ individuals in depth to determine their information needs during the coming out process.  Using the participants’ experiences, as well as the findings of related research literature, Behra and Maquet first defined the coming out process as a series of phases. They identified the concerns experienced in each phase, the information youth needed, and then developed useful, practical interventions that librarians can use to support GLBTQ youth at each phase.

These teens needed information about issues such as how to behave around other GLBTQ people, information about where to find GLBTQ individuals and social groups, examples of positive GLBTQ role models, and reliable information sources about GLBTQ issues to share with family and friends (Behara & Maquet, 2006, p. 9).

Linville (2004), a young adult librarian, also surveyed GLBTQ teens to find out what they wanted from the library. The most popular choice was stories about real people, but teens also wanted coming out stories, information on community resources, equal rights for GLBTQ youth, and safe sex; novels, and books about what it means to be gay (p. 184). Linville says, “They [also] want to know that we know that gay people live in every neighborhood, not just in that gay neighborhood over there. And they want to know that we welcome queer people to the library” (p.186). Build a GLBTQ Collection Once teacher-librarians are familiar with students’ information needs, they can use this knowledge to develop their collections. Building a GLBTQ collection is of course very similar to building any collection.  Schrader and Wells offer this advice.  “Above all, build slowly, seek resources, find kindred spirits, form networks, strategize thoughtfully and know that you are not alone” ( 2007, p. 25).  Of course, there are issues specific to the collection. Locating resources Alexander & Miselis (2007) point out that the number of GLBTQ young adult resources available far exceeds actual library holdings (p. 43).  Unfortunately resources can be difficult to find as GLBTQ books represent only 1% of the market (Clyde and Lobban, 2001 as cited in Cook, 2004, p. 43).  Many books are not available from the usual wholesalers or jobbers as they are printed by small presses (Bridge, 2010; Cook, 2004; Gardner, 2006). Happily the professional and research literature (see Gardner, 2006; Martin & Murdock, 2007; Rauch, 2010; Rockefeller, 2009; Schrader & Wells, 2007; and Whelan, 2006) provides many suggestions for finding new titles.  Teacher-librarians can use the Young Adult Library Services Association and American Library Association web sites, the Lambda Awards and Stonewall Awards (GLBTQ themes), online bookstores, and online databases such as NoveList to find titles.  In addition, teacher-librarians can survey students, talk to their peers, and consult staff of local specialty book stores. They can also network with Gay Straight Alliance facilitators, as well as with PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), and other GLBTQ groups Working with local and community groups has added benefits.  As Rauch points out, “If librarians invite GLBTQ groups into the library and encourage the involvement of the entire community, fear and hatred that exists for non-heterosexuals can be overcome” (2010, p. 218). In addition to resources already suggested, professional readers’ advisory and selection guides for GLBTQ literature are available to assist teacher-librarians in selecting resources appropriate to their libraries.  The Schrader and Wells (2007) guide already mentioned includes an extensive annotated bibliography, as does Serving Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, And Questioning Teens: A How-To-Do-It Manual for Librarians (Martin and Murdock, 2007).  In addition, The Heart Has Its Reasons: Young Adult Literature with Gay/Lesbian/Queer Content, 1969-2004 (Cart and Jenkins, 2006) provides a historical overview of the literature as well as extensive annotated lists.  Bosman and Bradford’s Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered literature: A genre guide (2008) provides a broader look at the literature by investigating its various genres, providing annotations (and readers’ advisories) for 1100 titles.  Understanding issues with reviews. Traditionally most teacher-librarians have relied on reviews in professional journals to guide their selection choices, but locating reviews of GLBTQ resources can be problematic.  Boon and Howard (2004) reported that titles with GLBTQ content received 41% fewer reviews than a control group of non-GLBTQ young adult fiction titles (p. 135).  Rockefeller (2009) points out that the major reviewing journals may not review books from small, independent presses (p. 289). Rothbauer and McKechnie (2000) discovered what might be considered biased reviews of GLBTQ literature.  In the reviews they read, “If a book was judged to provide some good life lessons it was always evaluated favourably despite any other perceived failings” (p. 13). Clarifying Cataloguing. Another issue in building a GLBTQ collection is cataloguing.  Because subject headings do not keep up with current culture, teacher-librarians are advised to catalogue and cross-reference these resources in user-friendly terms so as to be easily found by students.  While GLBTQ terms are constantly evolving, teens are more likely to use “gay” or “queer” than they are “homosexual” when searching the catalogue, so cataloguers should use current terminology (Bosman & Bradford, 2008; Cook, 2004; Johnson, 2010; McClary & Howard, 2007; Moss, 2008; Rothbauer, 2004; Rockefeller, 2009). Dealing with challenges. While dealing with challenges to collections is never pleasant, the best way to face one is to be prepared for it. Schrader and Wells (2007) and Martin and Murdock (2007) suggest that teacher-librarians start by developing clear guidelines for selecting library materials, including input from teachers, parents, students, administrators, and other staff.  Martin and Murdock  provide ideas for a red light, green light, yellow light, school zone strategy that allows librarians to ease their libraries gently and appropriately into using and promoting GLBTQ literature (2007, p. 125-135). A number of researchers suggest that teacher-librarians should prepare a collection development policy that defines their practice, as well as a challenge procedure that details each step in the process, and ensure all staff (including senior administration) are familiar with these (Rockefeller, 2009; Martin & Murdock, 2007; Schrader & Wells, 2007; Whelan, 2006). In their survey of librarians in 29 states, Alexander and Miselis found that “challenges to GLBTQ materials are unsuccessful when the library is prepared with a strong policy, good reviews to support the materials, and the support of knowledgeable administrators” (2007, p. 47). There is no question that developing a GLBTQ collection requires a great deal from a teacher-librarian. Brian Kenny, School Library Journal Editor-in-Chief, says, “It takes guts to create libraries that support the needs of all our students. It takes even more guts to support collections that may attract fierce opposition. But that just happens to be our job” (2006, p.11). Provide Library Services Appropriate for LGBTQ Teens Just what kind of library services do GLBTQ teens need? David Levithan, author of young adult gay fiction, editor, and a gay man himself, writes an impassioned article about the importance of supporting GLBTQ literature in libraries. In this excerpt he describes how librarians make a daily difference in teens’ lives.

I have met so many amazing librarians in the past few years, staunch and strong defenders of expression and representation. I can say without a single doubt that many young readers’ lives have been helped and saved by their librarians’ open-mindedness and courage. (I have the e-mails to prove it.) Many people consider librarians to be gatekeepers, usually in terms of keeping things out. I also think of librarians as gatekeepers in terms of the people they help through the gates. . . the amazing number of librarians who support and encourage their openly gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and questioning students as they strive to live their lives the way they want to live them (2004, p. 45).

What services and support are most helpful? Two resources that provide exceptionally detailed descriptions of programs and services are Serving Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Teens: A How-To-Do-It Manual for Librarians (Martin & Murdock, 2007), and the Canadian resource, Challenging Silence, Challenging Censorship: Inclusive Resources, Strategies and Policy Directives for Addressing Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Trans-Identified and Two-Spirited Realities in School and Public Libraries (Schrader & Wells, 2007). Strategies suggested here and by other professional and research articles (see Gardes, 2008; Mehra & Braquet, 2006; and Whelan, 2006) include

  • Celebrating Gay Pride Week, Gay History Month, and GLSEN’s Day of Silence, an annual vow of silence to bring attention to harassment in schools;
  • Providing high-quality fiction materials that let GLBTQ students see themselves positively;
  • Putting bibliographies of GLBTQ literature on the library web site, and adding some of these titles to summer reading lists;
  • Helping create and support Gay-Straight Alliances and other student clubs that address GLBTQ issues; host them in the library;
  • Making GLBTQ materials accessible and visible; including them in booktalks, displays, and pathfinders;
  • Encouraging access to appropriate GLBTQ web sites and where possible eliminating Internet filters;
  • Posting Safe Place or similar notices to let everyone know the school library is a GLBTQ-friendly place and that all students will be treated respectfully;
  • Actively discouraging homophobic talk and providing services in a non-judgmental manner to youth seeking “queer” information;
  • Protecting the privacy and dignity of GLBTQ patrons;
  • Treating GLBTQ students as you would any other student;
  • Including GLBTQ materials in regular programming, remembering that straight students can enjoy this quality literature too;
  • Asking GLBTQ students what they like to read.

Committing to the Safe Haven Alvin Schrader (2007, p. 5) asks librarians, “ Do we as a public service profession – and as a society – believe that all young people should be safe and deserve dignity and respect at the library and at school?” Of course all educators will answer yes. But do we all ensure this respect for our GLBTQ students? Bridge observes,

The literature has proved that some librarians are very aware of the inequality of service provided to this user group and have been writing about the issue for more than thirty years. That the same issues are still being raised despite radical changes to equality laws in society confirms that LGBT teenagers remain an invisible minority (2010, p. 20).

For many people the death of Tyler Clementi made homophobia visible. When we understand the needs and experiences of our students, when we build diverse, rich, inclusive and accessible collections, when we provide services that reflect and support our students’ dignity and value, when we reclaim the safety of our spaces, then we truly do offer our GLBTQ students the safe havens they students need. We show them they are no longer invisible.


Alexander, L. B., & Miselis, S. D. (2007). Barriers to GLBTQ collection development and strategies for overcoming them. Young Adult Library Services, 5(3), 43-49. Retrieved from Associated Press. (2010, December 6). Bergen Youth Orchestra to honor former member Tyler Clementi. Retrieved from‌news/‌index.ssf/‌2010/‌12/‌bergen_youth_orchestra_to_hono.html Boon, M, H., & Howard V. (2004). Recent lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender fiction for teens: Are Canadian public libraries providing adequate collections? Collection Building (23)3: 133-8. . Retrieved from Bosman, E., Bradford, J. P. (2008). Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered literature: A genre guide (R. B. Ridinger, Ed.). Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited. Bridge, S. (2010). No place on the shelves? Are Northern Ireland’s school libraries addressing the information needs of their lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered students? (Master’s thesis, Aberystwyth University, Ceredigion, United Kingdom). Retrieved from‌2160/‌5714 Cook, J. C. (2004). GLBTQ teen literature: Is it out there in Indiana? Indiana Libraries, 23(2), 25-28. Retrieved from Cart, M., & Jenkins, C. (2006). The heart has its reasons: Young adult literature with gay/lesbian/queer content, 1969-2004. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press. Curry, A. (2005). If I ask, will they answer? Reference & User Services Quarterly, 45(1), 65-75. Retrieved from Gardes, T. (2008). Serving lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and questioning teens in your library media center. CSLA Journal, 32(1), 23-24. Retrieved from Gardner, C. A. (2006). Welcoming our GLBT patrons. Virginia Libraries, 52(2), 45-50. Retrieved from Greenblatt, E. (2003). Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender library users: Overcoming the myths. Colorado Libraries, 29, 21-25. Haskell, R., & Burtch, B. E. (2010). Get that freak: Homophobia and transphobia in high schools. Winnipeg, Canada: Fernwood. Hoheb, M. L. (1999). Missing mirrors: Literacy experiences of adolescent lesbians. (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from Dissertations & Theses: Full Text. (AAT 9952918) Johnson, M. (2010). Transgender subject access: History and current practice. Cataloging & Classification Quarterly, 48(8), 661-683. doi:10.1080/01639370903534398 Kenney, B. (2006). Do the right thing. School Library Journal, 52(1), 11. Retrieved from Kosciw, J. G., Greytak, E. A., Diaz, E. M., & Bartkiewicz, M. J. (2010). The 2009 national school climate survey. Retrieved from Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network website:‌binary-data/‌GLSEN_ATTACHMENTS/‌file/‌000/‌001/‌1675-5.PDF Levithan, D. (2004). Supporting gay teen literature. School Library Journal, 50(10), 44-45. Retrieved from Limited shelf life. (2010). School Library Journal, 56(7), 15-15. Retrieved from Linville, D. (2004). Beyond picket fences: What gay/queer/LGBTQ teens want from the library. Voice of Youth Advocates, 27(3), 183-186. Retrieved from Martin, H. J., & Murdock, J. R. (2007). Serving lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning teens: A how-to-do-it manual for librarians. New York, NY: Neal-Schuman. McClary, C., & Howard, V. (2007). From “homosexuality” to “transvestites”: An analysis of subject headings assigned to works of GLBT fiction in Canadian public libraries. Canadian Journal of Information & Library Sciences, 31(2), 149-162. Retrieved from Mehra, B., & Braquet, D. (2006). A “queer” manifesto of interventions for libraries to “come out” of the closet! A study of “queer” youth experiences during the coming out process. LIBRES: Library & Information Science Research Electronic Journal, 16(1), 1-29. Retrieved from Moss, E. (2008). An inductive evaluation of a public library GLBT collection. Collection Building, 27(4), 149-156. doi:10.1108/01604950810913715 Rauch, E. W. (2010). GLBTQ collections are for every library serving teens! Voice of Youth Advocates, 33(3), 216-218. Retrieved from Rockefeller, E. I. (2009). Selection, inclusion, evaluation and defense of transgender-inclusive fiction for young adults: A resource guide. Journal of LGBT Youth, 6(2), 288-309. doi:10.1080/19361650902962641 Rothbauer, P. (2004). The internet in the reading accounts of lesbian and queer young women: Failed searches and unsanctioned reading. Canadian Journal of Information & Library Sciences, 28(4), 89-110. Retrieved from    Rothbauer, P. M., & Lynne E.F. McKechnie. (2000). The treatment of gay and lesbian fiction for young adults in selected prominent reviewing media. Collection Building, 19(1), 5-16. Retrieved from   Schrader, A. M. (2007). “I thought I’d find myself at the library”: LGBTQ services & collections in public and school libraries. PNLA Quarterly, 72(1), 4-9. Retrieved from Schrader, A. M., & Wells, K. (2007). Challenging silence, challenging censorship: Inclusive resources, strategies and policy directives for addressing bisexual, gay, lesbian, trans-identified and two-spirited realities in s_wpnonce=bf8f1a15de

Resources for Building A High School Library Program That Meets the Needs of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered, or Questioning Students: Part 1

PLEASE NOTE: For a much expanded and updated version of this information, please go to Becoming and Being:Reflections on Teacher-Librarianship, pages 192-205.

This is Part One in a series of three posts on this topic. Part Two looks at research literature; Part Three is a full literature review.

Part One: Professional Literature 

How can a high school teacher-librarian ensure that the library is a student-centred safe haven that meets the needs of GLBTQ students?


Imagine searching your school library for books about teachers, and finding that there were none.  When you ask the librarian for a book on this topic, she gives you a dirty look, telling you that she doesn’t purchase “those books.” Students who overhear you talking to the librarian laugh at you, saying, “Wow, you want stuff about teachers.  You must be one!”  Soon the word spreads around the library, and everyone is looking at you, laughing, and making rude remarks.  Then you use a library computer to search for information about teachers, but all of the sites are blocked, and you get in trouble for repeatedly trying to access banned sites.   You leave the library with no information, no school network access, and the certainty that you are marked for more harassment.  Welcome to the world of many GLBTQ teens.

If this picture hits too close to home for you, there is help at hand.   First, you can hear the real-life experiences, both good and bad, of GLBTQ teens in their high school libraries.  Then you can review why and how the library should be the center of social change in schools.  Recently there have been many examples in the media of bullying, harassment, and suicide of GLBTQ teens, and the professional literature provides a variety of suggestions on how to reach out to those you serve in your school, and how to make your library safer for them.  In addition, there are many resources available to help you select appropriate print and non-print resources, and to determine what library services GLBTQ teens require to enable them to use these materials effectively.  By implementing suggestions from the professional literature, every teacher-librarian can ensure that GLBTQ students have access to the information they need in their own school libraries.


Voices of GLBTQ Teens

Anderson, S. B. (2005). What it means to be extreme: Understanding non-traditional teens: Gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and questioning teens. In Extreme teens: Library services to nontraditional young adults (pp. 45-48). Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

Kenney, B. (2006). Do the right thing. School Library Journal, 52(1), 11.

Flecker, M., & Gutteridge, L. (2008). Gay positive literature in libraries could save lives: The leadership role for teacher-librarians in social justice issues. Teaching Librarian, 15(2), 38-39.

Levithan, D. (2004). Supporting gay teen literature. School Library Journal, 50(10), 44-45.

Limited shelf life. (2010). School Library Journal, 56(7), 15-15.

Whelan, D. L. (2006). Out and ignored: Why are so many school libraries reluctant to embrace gay teens? School Library Journal, 52(1), 46.

Social Justice and GLBTQ Teens

Alexander, L. B, & Miselis, S.  D. (2009). Hear the silent pleas of our gay youth. In G. Bush (Ed.), Best of KQ Series: School library media programs in action: Civic engagement, social justice, and equity (pp. 31-33). Chicago, IL: American Association of School Librarians.

Bush, G. (2006). Social action learning. School Library Media Activities Monthly, 22(7), 38-41.

Flecker, M., & Gutteridge, L. (2008). Gay positive literature in libraries could save lives: The leadership role for teacher-librarians in social justice issues. Teaching Librarian, 15(2), 38-39.

Levithan, D. (2004). Supporting gay teen literature. School Library Journal, 50(10), 44-45.

Martin, H. J., & Murdock, J. R. (2007). Serving lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning teens: A how-to-do-it manual for librarians. New York: Neal-Schuman.

Rauch, E. W. (2010). GLBTQ collections are for every library serving teens! Voice of Youth Advocates, 33(3), 216-218.

Schrader, A. M., & Wells, K. (2007). Challenging silence, challenging censorship: Inclusive resources, strategies and policy directives for addressing bisexual, gay, lesbian, trans-identified and two-spirited realities in school and public libraries. Ottawa: Canadian Teachers’ Federation.

Schrader, A. M., & Wells, K. (2005). Queer perspectives on social responsibility in Canadian schools and libraries: Analysis and resources. School Libraries in Canada (17108535), 24(4), 12-45.  

Reaching out to GLBTQ Teens

Gardes, T. (2008). Serving lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and questioning teens in your library media center. CSLA Journal, 32(1), 23-24. Retrieved from

Jones, J. (2004). Beyond the straight and narrow: Librarians can give gay teens the support they need. School Library Journal, 50(5), 45.

Martin, H. J., & Murdock, J. R. (2007). Serving lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning teens: A how-to-do-it manual for librarians. New York: Neal-Schuman.

Whelan, D. L. (2006). Out and ignored: Why are so many school libraries reluctant to embrace gay teens? School Library Journal, 52(1), 46.

Building GLBTQ Collections

Alexander, L. B., & Miselis, S. D. (2007). Barriers to GLBTQ collection development and strategies for overcoming them. Young Adult Library Services, 5(3), 43-49.

Alexander, L. B, & Miselis, S.  D. (2009). Hear the silent pleas of our gay youth. In G. Bush (Ed.), Best of KQ Series: School library media programs in action: Civic engagement, social justice, and equity (pp. 31-33). Chicago, IL: American Association of School Librarians.

Martin, H. J., & Murdock, J. R. (2007). Serving lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning teens: A how-to-do-it manual for librarians. New York: Neal-Schuman.

Rauch, E. W. (2010). GLBTQ collections are for every library serving teens! Voice of Youth Advocates, 33(3), 216-218.

Rockefeller, E. I. (2009). Selection, inclusion, evaluation and defense of transgender-inclusive fiction for young adults: A resource guide. Journal of LGBT Youth, 6(2), 288-309. doi:10.1080/19361650902962641

Schrader, A. M., & Wells, K. (2007). Challenging silence, challenging censorship: Inclusive resources, strategies and policy directives for addressing bisexual, gay, lesbian, trans-identified and two-spirited realities in school and public libraries. Ottawa: Canadian Teachers’ Federation.

Schrader, A. M., & Wells, K. (2005). Queer perspectives on social responsibility in Canadian schools and libraries: Analysis and resources. School Libraries in Canada (17108535), 24(4), 12-45.  

Library Services for GLBTQ Teens

Alexander, L., & Miselis, S. (2009). Hear the silent pleas of our gay youth. In G. Bush (Ed.), Best of KQ Series: School library media programs in action: Civic engagement, social justice, and equity (pp. 31-33). Chicago, IL: American Association of School Librarians.

Anderson, S. B. (2005). Outside the mainstream: Service to extreme teens – out and proud: Serving gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and questioning teens. In Extreme teens: Library services to nontraditional young adults (pp. 89-90). Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

Gardes, T. (2008). Serving lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and questioning teens in your library media center. CSLA Journal, 32(1), 23-24.

Martin, H. J., & Murdock, J. R. (2007). Serving lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning teens: A how-to-do-it manual for librarians. New York: Neal-Schuman.

Schrader, A. M., & Wells, K. (2005). Queer perspectives on social responsibility in Canadian schools and libraries: Analysis and resources. School Libraries in Canada (17108535), 24(4), 12-45. Retrieved from

Whelan, D. L. (2006). Out and ignored: Why are so many school libraries reluctant to embrace gay teens? School Library Journal, 52(1), 46.  

Recommended Articles

Levithan, D. (2004). Supporting gay teen literature. School Library Journal, 50(10), 44-45.

David Levithan draws on his experiences as a gay man, editor, and author of young adult gay fiction to urge teacher-librarians to include LGBTQ literature in collections.  He applauds teacher-librarians who brave controversy and stand up for intellectual freedom so that students can safely sign out the resources they need, and includes specific examples of  how to take a stand.  The article includes examples of the power that the right book at the right time can have for those who too often feel isolated and vulnerable.

Gardes, T. (2008). Serving lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and questioning teens in your library media center. CSLA Journal, 32(1), 23-24.

Tim Gardes, a California district librarian, provides some disturbing research statistics that show why LGBTQ teens are less likely to graduate from high school.  Gardes then points out that schools are legally required to improve conditions for these students.  Since school libraries have traditionally served other minority groups well, they are certainly able to better the treatment of LGBTQ students.   Gardes provides specific procedures to implement change, and stresses the positive effect on school climate that establishing a Gay Straight Alliance club had at one of his schools.

Martin, H. J., & Murdock, J. R. (2007). Serving lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning teens: A how-to-do-it manual for librarians. New York: Neal-Schuman.

This manual is an extensive guide that offers a wealth of material on issues, programming, services, and collections for LGBTQ teens. The authors include statistics from various studies that detail the shocking physical, emotional, and intellectual risks faced by these teens, and ways to help make libraries safe spaces for them.  In addition to offering strategies for library staff to deal with possible challenges to LGBTQ content or programming, the manual details ways for librarians to connect with and actively involve LGBTQ teens in the library in visible, positive ways.  In addition, the authors differentiate between strategies best suited to school libraries as opposed to public libraries.

Schrader, A. M., & Wells, K. (2007). Challenging silence, challenging censorship: Inclusive resources, strategies and policy directives for addressing bisexual, gay, lesbian, trans-identified and two-spirited realities in school and public libraries. Ottawa: Canadian Teachers’ Federation.

Alvin Schrader, Director of Research, University of Alberta Libraries, and Kristopher Wells, Chair of the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Sub-Committee of the Alberta Teachers’ Association’s Diversity, Equity, and Human Rights Committee, present a two-part manual with a Canadian perspective.   Part I discusses the current situation regarding the lack of resources and services for GLBTQ youth, and provides “A Guide for Action in Library Policy and Practice” to help librarians improve collections and services.  Part II of the book provides lists of annotated resources, including elementary, young adult, and professional books, as well as videos.  Canadian titles are identified, and the authors intend to provide updated lists on the Canadian Teacher Federation web site.

Whelan, D. L. (2006). Out and ignored: Why are so many school libraries reluctant to embrace gay teens? School Library Journal, 52(1), 46.

Debra Whelan, School Library Journal’s senior editor for news and features, shares statistics about the challenges, including a lack of resources in their school libraries, faced by GLBTQ teens.  Whelan puts a human face on the statistics by interviewing students and librarians whose stories illustrate the issues.  Whelan points out that although many librarians censor materials because they fear controversy, or personally believe these materials inappropriate, they risk breaking the law in doing so.  She offers suggestions on how to build a GLBTQ collection, how to make these resources accessible to students, and how to network to enlist support.


Connect with our students

Internet Filtering – I’m Hopping Mad!


Scott McLeod - CC Attibution 2.0 Generic

Does this picture remind you of how your administration treats its teachers?

Do you see internet filtering as indiscriminate censorship and a challenge to intellectual freedom?

Yes? Then don’t just vent – understand the issues, get busy, and make change happen.

 Time to Act

When it comes to internet filtering in the district where I taught for 38 years, and where my grandson will attend school, “I’m Mad and I’m Not Gonna Take It Anymore,” to quote Mary Ann Bell. Internet filtering in my local school district does not work as it should. Bell  (2008) provides a clear call to action for those fed up with the problems filtering causes teachers and students. She says, “It is time to move past fear mongering and paranoia as guides to internet access in schools.”

Of course this isn’t just a local problem. Cathy Nelson says, “I think the biggest problem at hand is complacency among educators in general. This IS an issue of intellectual freedom. Rights are being infringed here.”

Buffy Hamilton agrees, “I get so frustrated when people complain about the filter issues but then take no constructive action to educate the decision makers about the resources we want unblocked.”

 Can we eliminate filters?

Finnish schools don’t have any; instead they teach responsible use of the internet. “Over there, thanks to solid teaching, the filters are in the students’ heads. Ultimately, that’s where we need to be too.” (Weinstock, 2008; Villano, 2008)

We are nowhere near that point in Alberta, where teacher librarians are almost extinct, teachers have to push students through curricula to pass provincial exams, and we have no mandated curriculum in internet literacy. We can’t get rid of filtering altogether.

Here I agree with Nancy Willard. “There are certainly some benefits from the use of filtering software — if, and only if, filtering companies are not blocking based on viewpoint discrimination, and if educators have the ability and authority to promptly override the filter to access and review any blocked site and to provide access to students when appropriate.”

What Makes Me Hopping Mad?

How about the deceit that internet filtering promotes or tacitly condones in students and some staff? To illustrate:

  • 2¢ Worth » Filters Work – “when [teachers are] asked about getting around the government-required filters, to conduct  . . . research required to find . . . resources, a frequent response is, “I have no idea.” The next most-common response: I have no idea, but when I need to get to a blocked site, I ask a student for help.”
  • From Patrolling web 2.0: “despite the presence of an internet filtering solution, more than 150,000 attempted visits to MySpace were made.
  • To see just a small slice of the rampant bravado of the avoid-the-filter attitude, go to Google, YouTube, Facebook, or Wikihow and search “bypass internet filter.”

This situation reminds me of what Admiral Mike Mullen said to the senate about the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell American military policy. “No matter how I look at the issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens.”

Shouldn’t our policy makers be troubled by a policy that encourages or tacitly condones our teachers and students to break the rules? Don’t misunderstand me — I am not excusing their behaviour. But I agree with Doug Belshaw: “I want clear policies whereby both staff and students know where they stand when it comes to internet access and filtering. As far as I’m concerned, resources should be available for teaching and learning unless a clear case can be made otherwise.”

We need to find a way to protect students without interfering with our teachers’ right to teach and our students’ right to learn. And I don’t think internet filtering as it now exists is the solution. To echo Will Richardson, there is too much “don’t” and not enough “do” going on, and definitely not enough teaching about responsible internet use.

What’s broken?

I’ve identified issues from my own experience, from my reading, and from my conversation with some of my colleagues. Some of the fixes are self-evident. 

  • Teachers don’t know what the filtering policies are, who is in charge of them, or how to request blocking or unblocking of sites.
  • Students, especially at high school, have no input into internet filtering.
  • Filtering increases the divide between students who have access to computers at home, and those who don’t
  • So many sites have YouTube feeds that it is becoming an essential resource (Ross, email communication, 2010)
  • Poor acceptable use policies don’t support responsible use (Media Awareness Network)
  • No consistency in which sites are blocked in which schools on which day (Filters and other annoyances)
  • Lack of bypass rights (Bell, 2006)
  • Time taken to get sites unblocked (Bell, 2006, Filters and other annoyances)
  • No consistent provincial policy, like Nova Scotia has
  • Teachers don’t have time to teach internet skills (Pam’s comment)
  • Social networking sites are routinely blocked (Any interactive website is poison)
  • Sites are blocked because of their format, not content (Format Bigotry)
  • Sites are blocked due to social/political content, e.g., Gay, lesbian, pro-choice (Bell, 2006)
  • Inconsistent filtering makes teachers look inadequate, ill-informed (Bell, 2008).
  • Filtering gives false sense of security, so monitoring/educating don’t happen (Willard)
  • Need to discuss policies as a staff, review, update them regularly as circumstances change (Carla’s comment)
  • Teens need “bystander strategies” to provide effective peer guidance. (Willard)

So how do we effect change?

I urge you to view Buffy Hamilton’s slideshow below, and to visit Fighting the Filter. She provides some common sense ways for tls (and teachers) to assert our professionalism in filtering issues. After all, Hamilton says, “If our goal is for students to be information fluent learners, we must have access to the tools so that students can ultimately act as their own filter.” As a retired teacher librarian, I’m going to start asking questions, writing letters, and advocating for change.

By the time my grandson starts school I want all the “don’ts” of internet usage gone. I want his teachers (hopefully Pam, Carla, and Greg) to tell him, “Do use our network to collaborate with others to change the world in meaningful, positive ways.” (Richardson) Isn’t that what education is all about? 


So Who ARE These Digital Natives?

In his 2001 article, Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants: A New Way to Look at Ourselves and Our Kids, Marc Prensky describes digital natives. He says, ‘Our students today are all “native speakers” of the digital language of computers, video games and the Internet.’ Prensky provides some other characteristics:

 Digital Natives are used to receiving information really fast. They like to parallel process and multi-task. They prefer their graphics before their text rather than the opposite. They prefer random access (like hypertext). They function best when networked. They thrive on instant gratification and frequent rewards. They prefer games to “serious” work.

This slide show from PEW puts the concept of digital natives, born in 1990, in a historical context.


Prensky labels older people as digital immigrants and states that “our Digital Immigrant instructors, who speak an outdated language (that of the pre-digital age), are struggling to teach a population that speaks an entirely new language.” Many people, including Kathy Shrock and Joyce Valenza, take issue with being labelled digital immigrants. Both Kathy and Joyce are “digital pioneers.” As Kathy says, “This group of users grew up as technology grew up. This group of users has mastered both the skills (learned from years of technology risk-taking and experimentation) and the processes (learned from the real world and the online world) of information literacy and choosing the correct tool for the task.”

 Of  course there must be more flavours than just natives and immigrants. In her article Not just digital natives & immigrants! Anne Collier says, “Digital immigrants/natives is a huge generalization: among other things, it fails to acknowledge how very individual media and tech use is for people of all ages.”

 I found some more labels for people in the digital landscape in an article titled Digital Denizens. I like these because they show that we all go through various stages in terms of integrating technology in our lives.

 * Digital recluse: use of technology is a result of the need to function in the current environment, not used by choice; computers are prohibited at home

* Digital refugee, unwillingly forced to use technology; prefers hard copies, does not trust electronic resources; seeks assistance; may have grown up with technology or adopted it as an adult

* Digital explorer, uses technology to push the envelope; seeks new tools that can do more and work both faster and easier

* Digital innovator, adapts and changes old tools for new tasks; creates new tools

* Digital addict, dependent on technology; will go through withdrawal when technology is not available

 So how do we close this gap? In The digital melting pot: Bridging the digital native-immigrant divide, Sharon Stoerger suggests that there are far too many variations, and that instead of focusing on the divide, we should consider a melting pot. “Instead of segregating individuals based on their skills or lack thereof, the digital melting pot is a place where all individuals, including those with low levels of competency, experience technology in a way that fosters opportunities without barriers.”

The whole idea of degrees and styles of involvement in the digital experience of course makes perfect sense, but I like the term “digital multiculturalism” (Collier cites Prof. Henry Jenkins) much better than “digital melting pot.” Melting pot seems to imply to me that we all have to end up one bland mixture. How about “digital tapestry”, where our individual talents, expertise, and creativity are woven together, and each individual strand is worthy in and of itself, but made stronger, more beautiful, and more useful as part of the splendid whole?

 Brain Research

 So are young people’s brain really so different from ours? I gained more insight into digital natives by watching Digital Nationon Frontline. What stood out for me:

a) not enough research has been done to determine the effect/efficacy of new technologies on and for learners and learning ( Dr. Gary Small, author of iBrain),
b) although the digital natives’ brains do seem to be wired differently, older people’s brains change in similar ways when they use technology( Dr. Gary Small, author of iBrain), and
c) students’ routinely over-estimate their skills and abilities to multi-task efficiently (Clifford Nassprofessor at Stanford University, director of the Communication between Humans and Interactive Media (CHIMe) Lab.)

In Digital Natives and Immigrants: What Brain Research Tells Us , Nancy K Herther cites Apostolos Georgopoulos, director of University of Minnesota Center for Cognitive Sciences. “There is absolutely no scientific basis for claiming that young people’s brains have changed in recent times or that there is such a major difference between the brain at different ages. There isn’t a shred of scientific evidence to back up these claims. This is totally unfounded.”

We as teachers see that our students are young people and individuals no matter their level of “digitality,” and who better than trained teachers to work towards meeting their needs right now.

 Now What?

In “Who Are Today’s Learners?” (Learning & Leading with TechnologySeptember/October 2008) Christine Greenhow says, “As good teachers we always want to know who our students are and where they start from so that we can tap into, reinforce, build on, and extend their knowledge and experiences in learning new things.” She suggests we survey our students to find out their “out-of-school technology access, conditions, and use” and use strategies to “engage” (use technologies in creative and innovative ways) and “prepare” our students for the workplace where they will use social networking and other web 2.0 applications.

Certainly we can agree that our schools don’t all meet the needs of 21st century learners, and that we haven’t kept up with web 2.0 innovations. There are changes we can make now to remove the barriers blocking our progress. Some suggestions:

Lobby for changes:

  • Stop blocking access to YouTube and social media and web 2.0 sites
  • Change district-wide filtering so that sites needed by high school students aren’t blocked because they aren’t suitable for elementary students
  • Add appropriate technology and brain-research training for prospective teachers to teacher education programs (see March 2008 Learning & Leading with Technology: Hilary Goldmann – Preparing Teachers for Digital Age Learners)
  • Build in training time for current teachers
  • Fund – including evergreen funding—technology (Doug Johnson demonstrates 1 million+ tech $ saved in his district by moving to Google Apps)
  • Stop using labels that limit public perceptions – like digital immigrant
  • Encourage/enable/lead web 2.0 savvy teachers to mentor their peers
  • Survey students to find out their technology abilities, expertise, and shortfalls
  • Ask students how they think more technology can be integrated into your school/library/classes
  • Give Teens the Chance to Think for Themselves -Allow them opportunities to express themselves and share with a global audience
  • Have tech-savvy students create materials and lobby on your behalf, like Josh Porter 

We need to be vocal, focused leaders in our classrooms, our libraries, our administrators’ offices, our parent-teacher meetings, with our superintendents, and with our legislators to ensure the above are enacted.

If we need further inspiration, I’d like to close with 10 year-old Dalton Sherman. Do you believe?

Biblioburro and the 21st Century Library

Watch this video at Ayoka Productions

The Biblioburro

Every weekend, Luis Soriano, a primary teacher in La Gloria, Colombia, loads a collection of his own books into the “Biblioburro” pouches on his donkey’s back, and travels to remote villages to bring reading to children. Ayoka, the not-for-profit organization that filmed the Biblioburro video, provides some background information.

When Soriano was a child, his family fled local violence, moving to a city. Soriano not only found comfort in a library but had a teacher who encouraged him to read. When he became a teacher in his home town he discovered that most of his students couldn’t do their homework because they had no books at home, and so the Biblioburro was born.

He and his wife, Diana, have built (mostly by hand) La Gloria’s first public library, where he can at last display and circulate his entire collection of books.

So what does the Biblioburro have to do with a 21st century library, you ask? Aside from the obvious — many people know about the Biblioburro thanks to YouTube, and Twitter — there is food for thought here for teacher librarians looking at harnessing the power of Web 2.0 for their schools. I re-discovered the Biblioburro thanks to an LM_Net post that arrived as I was reading the rather intimidating issue of School Libraries Worldwide – Volume 14 Number 2, July 2008.

The Demands of the 21st Century Learner

The theme of this issue is New Learners, New Literacies, New Libraries. The issue explores the ramifications of web 2.0, and the urgency of the need for change to accommodate today’s learners. School librarians need to demonstrate leadership 21st century skills, or risk being left behind. In these days of budget cuts and standardized testing, revamping our practice, our libraries, and our schools is certainly not an easy task for most of us.

So what exactly is so intimidating? In his article Youth and their Virtual Networked Worlds: Research Findings and Implications for School Libraries, Ross Todd looks at the challenges posed by today’s students. He says, “Key challenges for school libraries relate to conceptualizing the school library as a knowledge commons, shifting instructional emphasis from information provision to knowledge development, and engaging the whole school community in appropriate pedagogical and policy decisions in relation to Web 2.0.” 

It isn’t enough just to use a few web 2.0 tools in the library; this is actually a dramatic shift involving one’s entire school. 

Why so urgent? Todd cites the research of Marc Prensky. ‘Marc Prensky, educator and developer of game technology for learning, claims that young people are powering down in schools–not just their devices, but their brains. He claims: “It’s their after‐school education, not their school education, that’s preparing our kids for their 21st century lives – and they know it. …When kids come to school, they leave behind the intellectual light of their everyday lives and walk into the darkness of the old ‐fashioned classroom” (Prensky, 2008, pp. 41, 42). In this brave new world of Web 2.0, the visionary, creative and learning centered leadership of school librarians can play a vital role in turning on the lights.’

So how do we go about turning on these lights? In another article in SLW, Towards School Library 2.0: An Overview of Social Software Tools for Teacher-Librarians, Jo-Anne Naslund and  Dean Giustini look at educationally useful web 2.0 tools, and how they can fundamentally alter the learning experience. ‘ʺWhen a studentʹs work is seen, and commented on, and collaboratively enhanced by a larger participative audience, students are drawn into extended educational ʹconversationsʹʺ (Hargadon, 2008).’

Another article giving extensive practical advice, and the most powerful article in this issue for me, is Towards a Transformative Pedagogy for School Libraries, by Marlene Asselin and Ray Doiron. They develop a “proposed pedagogical framework for school library programs in a Learning 2.0 environment” by answering these questions: “(1) Who are the new learners of the Net Generation?; (2) What literacies do today’s students need to live and work in the world?; (3) How do we teach the new learners?” 

The article’s conclusion contains a call to action. “It is time to situate the new literacies of the real world in schools and make school libraries the bridge between in‐school and out‐of‐school literacies. “ It also identifies “actions necessary for libraries to advance these activities – studying today’s learners in order to develop meaningful user‐centered services and programs; engaging in a collaborative change process as a profession; embracing the need for immediate actions; taking risks; and accepting that learning will happen as you go.”

Other Practical Advice

Joyce Valenza’s Manifesto for 21st Century School Librarians, a living, evolving, wiki, provides a blueprint for tls looking for specific ways to upgrade their practice. In every area of librarianship, ranging from Reading to the Digital School Library and the Information Landscape to Access, Equity, Advocacy to Digital Citizenship, and much more, the wiki provides specific, hyperlinked criteria for using web 2.0 to meet the needs of your stakeholders 24/7.

We must ground our efforts in the context in which we live. In their article Things That Keep Us Up at Night, Joyce Valenza and Doug Johnson say, “Rather than creating a perfect library, we need to reshape our thinking and create the perfect library for our individual institution. . . . Teachers, administrators, parents, and students must demand the essential services we provide.”

And the Biblioburro?

I have felt rather overwhelmed by the fact that I have a ways to go to achieve 21st century librarian status, but when I look at what Luis Soriano has accomplished, I feel ashamed. If Luis Soriano can survive guerrilla warfare, displacement, and being held hostage by bandits to empower his students, then surely, with the expert assistance I’ve described, I can empower mine as a 21st century librarian.

I finish with this quote taken from the Ayoka site:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
– Margaret Mead

Blogs for Professional Development – The Willow

Last week we arrived home late in the afternoon after a brief rain storm, and as we got out of the car we saw our willow tree bathed in gold. My husband dashed in the house to get his camera, and took a dozen shots of it.

This beautiful tree is old, much older than our house, and an arborist with the city recently told us that it has the biggest trunk of any tree in Edmonton. It’s so big that it’s impossible to take a photograph of the whole tree. Its branches have been bent and broken by the wind, and shaped by many human hands over the years.

As I was planning this entry on blogs as professional development, it occurred to me that trying to capture the variety and breadth of blogs useful to teachers and teacher-librarians is like trying to photograph the intricate network of our tree. It’s just not possible to capture it all. What I’ve decided to do is take a few snapshots from different angles to share some of the power of the blog network.

How Blogs are Used

In Towards School Library 2.0: An Introduction to Social Software Tools for Teacher Librarians, Jo-Anne Naslund and Dean Giustini summarize the research on how blogs are being used in schools. Blogs can encourage

  • Online chat, debate and reflective practice.
  • Students to share their personal stories.
  • “Reading about other schools and their challenges, and what students and teachers are thinking, talking about and feeling.”
  • Reaching out to the community
  • Creating gathering places for professional development
  • “Providing a window into teaching”
  • Getting “information out to the public about teachers, and what they do.”
  • Sharing “information about current issues and practices of interest.”

Scott Leslie, an educational technology researcher and emerging technology analyst, and a prolific blogger himself, has created a matrix of uses for Web logs in education. These are divided into instructors and students reading and writing blogs. Among others, instructors’ uses include reading subject-specific blogs to keep up with current practice, and writing blogs as instruction for students or as networking with colleagues.

Tony Lowe has created a Drag and Drop version of the matrix to which you can add your own descriptors, a wonderful tool to use in a workshop on blogging with teachers.

In her eloquent article, Becoming Teacher Librarian 2.0, Anita Brooks Kirkland discusses the responsibility of teacher librarians in ensuring the early adoption of web 2.0 in schools. This includes using blogging.

“We need to learn about this huge movement, where we have access to the knowledge and opinions of anyone and everyone, and where the value of that information is assessed and ranked by the user community. If we are to remain the information specialists in our schools, we need to master this new media and understand where it fits into the broader information landscape. We need to become Teacher-Librarian 2.0 to help provide context for our Web 2.0 students.”

Kirkland goes on to provide four ways to get up-to-date:

  • Explore: Teacher-librarians must “Subscribe to, and follow the blogs of leading thinkers in the school library world and the wider library world to engage in the conversation about these issues.” She provides a list of some of these.
  • Exploit professional learning opportunities: “More and more professional learning opportunities are accessible to us when and where we need them, especially where face-to-face learning is inaccessible.” Many conferences now are offered online and/or are blogged as they occur and afterwards.
  • Consider the implications: “We need to engage in professional conversation about these issues and collaborate on developing the solutions.” Reading, writing, and commenting on blogs are ways to participate in these discussions.
  • Engage: It is essential that t-ls learn about and daily use the new technologies, including blogging, to support their programs.

Finding Blogs for Teachers

There are many ways to find useful blogs, in addition to searching, not including using Google blog search. These include checking the blog rolls, or lists of blogs, on blogs written by people you respect and whose work you follow. You can also find blogs on web sites such as Edutopia and Education World, or on sites for professional journals such as Teacher Magazine. Conferences often have blogs as part of their web sites, such as the recent K-12 Online Conference.

The Edublog Awards provides a wide assortment of blog links, giving 15 awards, including 7 different types of educational blogs.

  • Best individual blog
  • Best group blog
  • Best resource sharing blog
  • Best teacher blog
  • Best librarian / library blog
  • Best educational tech support blog
  • Best elearning / corporate education blog

In addition to the seven listed above, The Edublog Awards are presented in these categories, providing even more possibilities for professional development:

  • Best new blog
  • Most influential blog post
  • Best educational use of audio
  • Best educational use of video / visual
  • Best educational wiki
  • Best educational use of a social networking service
  • Best educational use of a virtual world

While the 2008 winners have not yet been announced, you can view the 2007 winners as well as the top nominees. You can also look back at previous winners. Here is a plethora of educators writing about all aspects of education, from the district administrators’ standpoint to the university academician to the classroom teacher to the teacher librarian, and all areas in between. In addition, in the Awards blog you can find blogs that people think should have been nominated but weren’t.

Finding Blogs for Teacher Librarians

Naslund and Giustini suggest that “A good place for teacher librarians who want to explore blogs is Alice Yucht’s EduBiblioBlog List which identifies over 50 library media-related blogs divided by category: kidlit blogs, young adult lit blogs, school library blogs, infolit blogs, edtech blogs, library land blogs and association blogs. Many of these blogs are created for teacher librarian associations while others are written by teachers who share their views about school library issues, children’s and young adult literature.”

Impact as A 21st-Century Library Media Specialist, by Peggy Milam Creighton, discusses many expert professionals in the field. This article is a superb source of information about how these “exemplary library media specialists” work to improve their practice and share their expertise. Check the many links to find blogs (as well as other resources such as wikis and nings) created by these movers and shakers.

Professional Blogs to Explore, from Becoming Teacher Librarian 2.0, by Anita Brooks Kirkland, provides a good beginner’s list of blogs:

Blogs about school library programs:

Blogs from the wider world of libraries:

Finding My Blogs

The most useful resource for me as a teacher librarian has been the list serv LM_Net, (read Doug Johnson’s post on LM_Net here – he calls it the “original Read/Write web”) which has been graced over the years by postings from Peter Milbury, Mike Eisenberg Joyce Valenza, Doug Johnson, Shonda Brisco, Barbara Braxton, Gary Price, and many, many others. When I began to look for blogs to follow, I started with looking for blogs by these experts I already knew. Then I looked at the blogs they read, and expanded my repertoire.

Of course our instructor, Joyce de Groot, and Will Richardson, author of our textbook, Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms, have expanded my horizons exponentially. In addition, a major joy of taking the Web 2.0 course is the wealth of new material – and new-to-me blogs – shared by my classmates. Thank you to you all for this! You can see a selected list of the 40+ blogs I follow below, and in the blog roll to the left of this post.


Personalize Your Overload: RSS and Blog Aggregators

As I was thinking about this week’s post on using RSS feeds and aggregators, I kept coming back to the same idea: information overload. Since I first investigated using RSS feeds early in October, and then began using Diigo, I have become more efficient in terms of finding and storing information. I still experience overload. But is that necessarily a bad thing? Or is it a necessary part of learning in the 21st century?

Stephen Downes recently commented on a post by Teemu Arina that seems to support the idea of overload as “a good thing.”

“This is exactly why those people who use RSS readers to scan through thousands of feeds, read blog posts from various decentrally connected sources and who engage themselves into assembling multiple unrelated sources of information into one (probing connections between them) have much greater ability to sense and respond to changing conditions in increasingly complex environments than those who read only the major newspapers, watch only the major news networks and don’t put themselves into a difficult situation of being hammered with a lot of stuff at once.” [Emphasis is mine.]


In his post Arina goes on to say that although information overload makes you anxious, it gives you the opportunity to see patterns develop and form connections.

This idea brings me back to the importance of refining and personalizing the information I expose myself to. I am beginning to think that RSS feeds and aggregators are the essential tool of Web 2.0 and 21st century learning, and 10 weeks ago I didn’t even know what they were! I think back to my 100+ colleagues, and the 2000+ studentsin my high school, and I wonder if any of them are using these even now.

In his August 27, 2008 post, Don’t underestimate the importance of the aggregator, Doug Johnson comments on his epiphany regarding RSS feed aggregators. He, like most of us, began with collecting blogs. He says, “Given most educators’ time constraints, finding updated information from lots of blogs in a single fast and convenient location is essential if blogs are to actually be used as a PLN [personal learning network] resource on a regular basis.”

Johnson lists several other uses, including Google News searches, and “reputation monitoring.” He set up feeds to monitor Delicious and Technorati to see who has commented on or bookmarked his posts. Cool idea! Perhaps some day I’ll have made enough Footprints in the Digital Age (Will Richardson’s article) that I’ll need to do this!

One comment on this post resonated with me. Miguel Guhlin said, “Our teachers suffer the tyranny of visiting web sites with no time to do it, much less reflect on the content. With an RSS aggregator, they are free to visit once and the learning opportunities come to them. What a deal!”

Yes, and another great deal is that through a link to Johnson’s The top 10 things you should know about RSS feed aggregators I discovered his wiki, where he post resources from his workshops.

If I’m going to be hammered by information, I want it to be information I choose. In Bringing the World to My Doorstep: A Teacher’s Blog-Reading Habits – National Writing Project, Kevin Hodgson says he reads 500 blogs (!) every night, impossible without his RSS feed generator. Hsis article, well worth reading as a whole, discusses various blogs that have influenced his learning. He says, ‘The kind of “reading” of blogs that I did which led me to the Darfur project-sometimes called “hyper-reading” or “social media literacy”-is becoming more common among young learners, and it may be an emerging skill of the information age. It’s termed “hyper-reading” because reading a stream of online text often forces the viewer to move through hyperlinks. The reader may never return to the original document-it can be an unsettling experience for some of us who are used to sustained reading of one text.’

Hodgson references Chris Heuer, who in Reading, wRiting, aRithmetic and RSS – The 4 R’s suggests that RSS could be ‘the fourth “R” in our conception of literacy.’

Heuer says, “This is one of the key elements that make Social Media literacy different. I could describe it in many other ways, but within this context the important aspect for me is that understanding how RSS and by extension tags, work. It enables any individual to step into the conversational flow – to not only follow what other people are communicating, but ensuring what the individual has to communicate is heard by other people who care about the topic.”

So now I’m even more convinced that RSS feeds can help me effectively manage information overload. How might I use them with students? With colleagues?

Using RSS with Students

In Bandwidth Backup: Saving Students Time Online, Chris O’Neal suggests that when your students log in within the school, if their default school home page is the typical public-face-of the-school-for-the-community-and-parents one, change it to one “immediately useful to your students.” While I was unable to do this in my library last year due to administrative rules, the idea seems so obvious that I have already emailed my replacement teacher-librarian and our computer tech to suggest ways of doing this, and to volunteer lobbying aid on their behalf.

Joyve Valenza has given me some ideas on what might really be useful as a start page, and she of course includes RSS feeds. Dennis O’Connor posted an interview with her on The Keyword Blog: Joyce Valenza -21st Century Research Skills!

‘How can we help our students create their own meaningful information spaces to support their work as learners? I think we may need to guide them to widgetizing their personal desktops. This year we asked our seniors to use iGoogle as a tool to organize their senior projects. I see more tools like that emerging. Now students can open an interface and be presented with their favorite online dictionary, foreign language tools, mapping tool, thesaurus, calendar, to-do list, while they push research-relevant RSS feeds to them through a reader. They choose their theme. Their little game applets are there too. This was perhaps the “stickiest” activity they’ve done yet this school year. The spaces continue to grow more personally meaningful.’

This would work beautifully with various groups of students in my school. Our International Baccalaureate students write various essays on individual research topics, including extended essays, internal assessments, and a world literature paper. They could create an iGoogle page that could be adapted for each assignment, including shifting links from our various online databases and E-Books, as well as RSS feeds for Google alerts for searches on their individual topics, and much more.

In various posts on her blog, NeverEndingSearch, Joyce Valenza discusses using iGoogle (Creating 2.0-style textbooks?) to have students create their own and shared content, as well as using PageFlakes (PageFlakes as Current Events Pathfinders) to create start pages with common content. She shares samples at Each page contains a variety of RSS feeds that pull content appropriate to the page, as well as links to associated library resources. Click on the tabs at the top of the page to see the five different pages. Joyve has shared.

In terms of the overload concept, Richard Byrne makes an excellent point in 34 ways to use RSS, the November 12, 2008, post on the amazing Free Technology for Teachers blog. He suggests that students track content through feeds in an RSS reader rather than going to the actual web sites, as there will be fewer distractions from advertising using a reader. Now that’s cutting back on the hammering!

Using RSS with Teachers

Much of what I can do with students I would also do with my colleagues. But there’s so much more. As I write, I keep thinking how I used to hammer my teachers with email. I was very proud that I was keeping them up-to-date with curriculum-related resources targeted to the units they were teaching. Last year I created a wiki of web resources for our science teachers and was emailing them when I added sites. How much easier for them and for me if I showed them how to save an RSS feed for the page. That way those who are interested will get the content they want and everyone’s’ inbox is lightened!

Another amazing wiki, WebTools4u2use, has a plethora of tips and suggestion for using RSS. I must admit I had never thought of subscribing to the hundreds of electronic journals with RSS feeds. Another suggestion is to add feeds from your public library to your library web site; to this blog I added a feed from the Coutts Education Library at my own University of Alberta (it’s in the left tool bar).

WebTools4u2use also links to Dr. Charles Best Secondary School Library in Coquitlam, BC, as an exemplar of the use of RSS feeds in education. I would use the library’s page NEWS FOR THE CLASSROOM in an in-service with my staff on using RSS with students. The page not only provides links to news feeds in 15 different subject areas, but the page itself (an every page on the web site) has its own feed. Talk about an impressive library web site!

What’s Next for Me

Robin T. Williams and David Loertscher have a new-to-me book: In Command! Kids and Teens Build and Manage Their Own Information Spaces, And…Learning to Manage Themselves in Those Spaces. From the LMC Source description: ‘This book and accompanying website takes a new approach in the battle to capture the attention and serve student needs. . . . It asks each child and teen to construct their own home page using iGoogle, and construct three sections of their own information space. The time has come to offer young people a gift of a lifetime – control over the voices clamouring for their attention and the tools they need to emerge as truly information literates.”

Sounds like someone else is working on personalizing our information overload. This looks like required reading to me. How about you?

Social Networking 1: Lauren’s Network

Lauren’s Current Network

Last weekend I took a break from working on this week’s blog post on social networking. I went to visit my niece, and when I arrived, my seven-year-old grandniece, Lauren, closely supervised by her mother, was on the computer. She was busy checking her email at Webkinz, a social-networking site aimed at kids. Coincidence? I think not. Somehow fate knew I needed a cute photo (including pink kitten ears) to illustrate this week’s post.

It’s also not a coincidence that Webkinz is featured in the article Scaffolding the New Social Literacies, by Stephen Abram. Here’s a description from the web site (hosted by the Ganz plush animal people), “Webkinz pets are lovable plush pets that each come with a unique Secret Code. With it, you enter Webkinz World where you care for your virtual pet, answer trivia, earn KinzCash, and play the best kids games on the net!”

I chatted with my grandniece about the site. She showed me the virtual room she has built for her various stuffed toys, and the games she likes best. As of yet, she isn’t chatting with other members, but that is available, although in a highly-structured, highly controlled way.

Abram also discusses Club Penguin ( The website says that “Club Penguin is a safe virtual world for kids to play, interact with friends and have fun letting their imaginations soar.”

Even though it costs $5.95 a month to join, Club Penguin is one of the top 10 social networking sites in the USA, so obviously children enjoy it, and parents are willing to pay for it.
Abrams point out that children using these highly commercial social networking sites, while carefully protected in a highly secure environment, are vulnerable to their pressure.

“What are these two sites doing? Isn’t it obvious? They’re using the Colombian drug lord strategy. These sites are, probably unintentionally, playground push-ers of social networking crack. They try for brand loyalty and return visits. Unlike MySpace or Facebook, they offer subscription models, or you need to buy something to enter. Peer pressure plays no small role in their word-of-mouth marketing.”

We as teacher librarians, Abrams says, have a teachable moment here. These two sites are highly ethical, but other networking sites work at collecting lots of data from their users. While we teach children about themselves and their place in the world, we can also teach them about online safety.

“At each stage we define what level of awareness they need to have while they’re on-line. What would we tell others about ourselves in our family? What information would you email grandma versus a stranger? Do you share more or different things when you’re out in your own neighborhood? What about strange neighborhoods? When do you tell people your whole name and address? What about when you’re interacting with the whole country or potentially the world, like on the web?”

Protecting or Overprotecting?

Other experts agree that schools need to help students use social networking sites appropriately. In her article ‘Safe’ social networking sites emerge, Laura Ascione discusses Whyville, “an online virtual world that immerses children in a video game-like experience where they must manage money, make sure they eat properly, and have the ability to communicate with others. More importantly, the site seeks to educate its users about online safety and how to behave in an online community.”

Another site for children,, a free social networking site centred on science, requires that users be registered by parents whose identity is verified by a credit card, or by a teacher as part of a class.

Ascione quotes Tim Donovan, vice president of marketing for the company that is launching Imbee. “Children and teenagers often don’t understand that what they post on the internet remains on the internet. We want kids to develop [an online] skill set under the guidance of their parents; we want parents to be accountable.”

While these sites are as safe as technology can make them, the article goes on to point out that it is essential that students be taught to be aware of online hazards such as identity theft and phishing scams, as well as online predators. I was appalled to read here that identity theft involving children under 18 doubled from 2004 to 2005. Schools need to take the initiative in teaching students how to network safely.

Lauren’s Future Networks

The School Library Journal article MySpace, Facebook Promote Literacy, by Debra Lau Whelan, dicusses a new report from Britain. Young People and Social Networking Services by the U.K.-based Internet safety organization Childnet International. The report says “there are potential “formal and informal” educational benefits for kids who use social networking services.” These include

  • improving technology and digital literacy skills,
  • developing “e-safety” skills
  • building collaboration skills
  • becoming a team player
  • broadening horizons
  • developing an understanding of how people live and think in all parts of the world.

The article concludes that social networking sites help students get real-world experience. “Being able to quickly adapt to new technologies, services, and environments is already regarded as a highly valuable skill by employers, and can facilitate both formal and informal learning.”

Googling Our Kids – Will Lauren Measure Up?

In Footprints in the Digital Age, Will Richardson muses on the impact of social networking on our children’s futures. “In the Web 2.0 world, self-directed learners must be adept at building and sustaining networks.” He signed up his children, aged seven and nine, on Club Penguin to get them started with social networks.

Richardson points out that we as teachers are likely being Googled frequently even now, and are judged on our digital footprint.  “It’s a consequence of the new Web 2.0 world that these digital footprints-the online portfolios of who we are, what we do, and by association, what we know-are becoming increasingly woven into the fabric of almost every aspect of our lives.” How much more important will this become for our children in the Web 2.0 culture, where creating content is becoming commonplace and expected.

Richardson states, “One of the biggest challenges educators face right now is figuring out how to help students create, navigate, and grow the powerful, individualized networks of learning that bloom on the Web and helping them do this effectively, ethically, and safely.” Rather than just sharing information to be read, we should be teaching students to share information to engage an audience. Richardson cites the blog “Twenty-Five Days to Make a Difference” (, created by 10-year old Laura Stockman. Her sharing of her plan to do one good deed per day has engaged readers from around the world, and resulted in thousands of dollars raised in cash and kind for charity.

Of course, in order to help students learn to network effectively, we as teachers need to master the technology and the techniques of networking, and to have our students see us doing this.

Next weekend I’ll be heading back to spend some time online with Lauren.